Alton Jimerson, 11, says what he learned last year during his weeklong stay at the American Indian Youth Wellness Camp changed his life.
“I experienced sports and activities like lacrosse for the first time and really enjoyed it,” he says. “And I ate vegetables like corn, broccoli and lettuce that I didn’t think would taste good but I really like eating them now.”
Before his camp experience, Alton didn’t think exercise could be fun and didn’t consider how important it was to eat his vegetables. But a year later, he is member of his school’s cross country and wrestling teams. His siblings have also started emulating his healthy behaviors.
A successful crowdfunding campaign is helping to cover room and board costs so that other children like Alton can have the same experiences this summer. The funds also help continue work that addresses an epidemic of Type 2 diabetes in American Indian adolescents, more than half of whom are overweight or obese and at risk for the disease.
Francine Gachupin, camp director and assistant professor in the UA’s department of family and community medicine, says the camp’s goals are to teach children the importance of healthy eating and to promote routine exercise.
The program brings about 50 children ages 10 to 15 from several tribes to Whispering Springs, near Prescott, Arizona. Camp activities include learning traditional native games, playing sports, planting seeds and more.
Gachupin says that data collected from in-depth physical assessments helps guide the program and curriculum. Check-ins that occur several months after camp help solidify good eating habits and regular exercise at home.
“We use the data to focus on behaviors that are identified as troublesome and design a curriculum that addresses those behaviors,” Gachupin says.